SINGAPORE - The Republic can play an important role in enhancing both physical and digital connectivity between Asean economies and China by opening up access and facilitating trade, said Minister for Trade and Industry Gan Kim Yong on Monday (July 12).
Speaking at the FutureChina Global Forum at the Sands Expo and Convention Centre at Marina Bay Sands, he cited the China-Singapore Chongqing Connectivity Initiative (CCI) as crucial to facilitating the continuous flow of essentials such as food and medical supplies between China and South-east Asia amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
The CCI is Singapore's third government-to-government project with China after Suzhou Industrial Park and Tianjin Eco-City.
Mr Gan noted that under the CCI, a rail link, named the New International Land-Sea Trade Corridor (ILSTC), has brought greater integration of Western China and South-east Asia.
"It has catalysed trade and economic growth by reducing the time needed to transport goods between regions from three weeks to just one week," he said on the first day of the two-day hybrid event, which has a blend of attendees present in-person and dialling in virtually.
"Despite disruptions caused by the pandemic, the CCI-ILSTC witnessed a 30 per cent year-on-year increase in cargo flows in 2020."
Increased connectivity and opportunities will help to drive economic recovery in the region, in a post-Covid-19 world where digitalisation will also play a much more substantial role, said Mr Gan, who co-chairs a multi-ministry task force on Singapore's response to the pandemic.
On that note, Singapore aims to bolster local companies' capabilities and competitiveness in Industry 4.0 supply chains which focus on automation and smart technology.
For example, the Grow Digital initiative launched in June last year under the SMEs Go Digital programme allows small and medium-sized enterprises to tap overseas markets using e-commerce platforms. More than 2,000 firms are now transacting on these platforms.
The Government has also been working with industry partners to develop a common data infrastructure (CDI) to address inefficiencies in the current supply chain ecosystem. Announced in November last year, the infrastructure will reduce dependence on physical documents and facilitate secure data exchanges.
"The development of the CDI will enable Singapore to advance our position as a digital hub for trade and fulfilment and create new opportunities for our partners to trade with and through Singapore," said Mr Gan.
Similar opportunities to strengthen digital trade with China include an electronic data exchange system under the China-Singapore Free Trade Agreement upgrade signed in 2018.
The Asean Single Window platform, which expedites Customs clearance between member states, could also be linked with partners like China, said Mr Gan.
He described Beijing's participation at the World Trade Organisation's Joint Statement Initiative for E-Commerce as a positive step in developing global digital trade rules.
Earlier, he noted that trade volume between the 10 Asean countries and China had increased by 7 per cent to US$730 billion (S$986 billion) in 2020, calling it "a sign that trade between both sides continues to be robust, despite the impact of Covid-19".
Last year was the first time Asean rose to become China's largest trading partner. China has been Asean's largest trading partner for 12 years in a row.
Singapore and the South-east Asian countries are also well positioned to facilitate the flow of goods, financing and investments between China and the rest of the world, said Mr Gan.
"As companies look to reorganise their global supply chains post-Covid-19, South-east Asia can be an attractive choice for companies considering a 'China Plus' strategy."